Follow-up on “Good Enough Is Not Good Enough” Workshop
Just before the lockdown, we invited professional speaker Dr Damian Conway to hold a workshop about the seven mistakes that keep people form being a great speaker. We reached out to him down under to ask him a few follow up questions.
If our members should take a single thing from the workshop with them, what would that be?
That the most important secret to being a great presenter is that they simply need to learn to be their authentic selves, confidently and comfortably, in front of their audience.
They don’t have to put on some professional persona, they don’t have to become stiff and formal. They can relax and let their genuine enthusiasm for their topic shine through.
They can be themselves and still be confident, because they are sure that they’ve selected the right material…and the right story to tell about it. And they can be comfortable and calm as well, because they’ve rehearsed their presentation sufficiently often that it’s now instinctive, which means they can improvise their actual speech, so that it comes out relaxed and natural.
If you had had more time, what other concepts would you have talked about?
I would have talked about how to find and orchestrate effective story structures for different types of presentations.
Then I would have discussed the design the various visual components of a presentation (text, diagrams, charts and graphs) so that those visuals support your message and enhance the flow of your information.
And, finally, I would have delved much deeper into the psychology of presenting, especially how to go about not just telling an audience something, but actually convincing them of it.
How did you become a professional speaker? Was it a goal for you, or did you take the opportunity when it presented itself?
Professional speaking was not a specific goal for me when I was starting out.
My original goal was always to do creative work in Computer Science. To accomplish that I needed to become an academic, which naturally involved a great deal of teaching, and speaking at conferences. But I soon found that I enjoyed that aspect of my job just as much as the actual research I was doing. And, if I’m honest, that I was better at communicating important new ideas than I was at developing important new ideas.
Don’t get me wrong: I loved (and still love) developing new concepts and new solutions to problems, but that process has gradually become a means, rather than an end: a way to provide myself with interesting material to teach and to speak about. And I think that’s vital. It doesn’t matter how good a speaker you become; those skills are meaningless unless you have something interesting and important to say.
The big change for me came about twenty years ago, when I reached a crossroad in my career. I had to decide whether to stay with my university job, or to strike out by myself and set up my own training company. Obviously I chose the latter, and in doing so I was effectively choosing the goal of being a professional speaker, over the goal of being a professional academic. That was not an easy decision at the time, but I certainly have never regretted that choice.